Citing the objections of more than 100 nearby residents, the city-parish Planning Commission voted 7-1 on Monday to reject developer Ben Skillman’s request to rezone his residential property at Perkins Road and Stuart Avenue for medical office use.
The measure, which also would require a change to East Baton Rouge Parish’s land-use map, drew opposition from those who called it “spot zoning” that would only serve to help Skillman sell the property and continue the encroachment of commercial development south of Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.
Skillman’s attorney, Randy Roussel, three supporters and the recommendation of the Planning Commission’s staff contended that Perkins is too busy and lined with commercial development for the property to be considered too residential to rezone.
Jamie Landry Karem, a legally blind woman living next to the property with her husband and three children, pointed out that the entrance to the gated property is on Stuart, interior to the neighborhood.
She said the fact that Skillman has used the house as his office for years does not amount to tacit approval from the neighborhood, as claimed.
“A home office is completely different than an office building,” said Karem, noting she and many others walk the neighborhood regularly and deserve to have it stay residential.
While Roussel pointed to the development across Perkins and some even on the south side, residents opposed were adamant that the Planning Commission honor the maps that show the street zoned residential around much of the property and FuturEBR, the new $1.9 million master plan adopted by the commission and the city-parish a year ago.
“We’ve spent the time, worked hard ... let’s follow the plan,” said Dennis Vidirine of the Goodwood Property Owners Association.
“Already one year into the plan, you’re not going to follow the spirit of the map?” asked Nancy Curry, president of the Goodwood Villa Area Neighborhood Association.
“Apparently, it was a waste if you’re going to chuck it this quickly,” resident Elise Allen said.
Kathy Wascom, who lives nearby on Aberdeen Avenue, said she used to work at the library, where the amendments to the Horizon Plan added significantly to the document.
“It brings a real cynicism toward government when you see exception after exception after exception ...” she said.
Warner J. Delaune, a lawyer and opponent of the proposed rezoning, said rezoning to a small planned unit development, typically done to encourage infill development in difficult spaces by giving the developer maximum flexibility, does not apply here.
“This is not a unique and creative development,” he said. “It’s a man trying to sell his property.”
“The main purpose is for Mr. Skillman to sell his property,” said Greg Aycock, a lawyer who opposed the change. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Roussel, Skillman’s representative at the meeting, said the property has been on the market for 18 months and prospective buyers are telling Skillman it is more appropriate for office use.
“Perkins Road is not a residential street in this section,” he said.
Patricia Angelle, a pharmacist, addressed concerns among residents that the group of psychiatrists Skillman wants to sell his property to will be treating recovering drug addicts, which would severely affect property values.
Frank Muscarello, a former commissioner and a parishioner at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, compared saying commercial developments fit on the south side of Perkins to saying you could put a chemical plant in the neighborhoods across from ExxonMobil.
Commissioner Martha Jane Tassin said that while she considers herself pro-development and the master plan a fluid document, “I don’t believe this is the place to start changing FuturEBR.”
Commissioner John Price also said he considers the change “spot zoning.”
Commissioner W.T. Winfield, on the other hand, challenged residents’ contention that they have not opposed all development and echoed the staff’s contention that there are commercial uses nearby. His motion to approve died without a second.
Commissioners Tara Wicker, Darius Bonton, James Gilmore, Sarah Holliday-James, Laurie Marien, Price and Tassin voted to deny the change.
Winfield voted against the denial. Commissioner Audrey Nabors Jackson was absent.
The Metro Council will take up the issue next at its zoning advisory committee meeting on Nov. 20.